Bruce Allen and the Redskins are trying to accomplish one of the most difficult feats in all of sports.
They are trying to catch a rising star.
From looking at the head coaching candidates that we know about the most notable thing is a lack of notable NFL accomplishments. Jim Caldwell was the head coach of a Super Bowl team but, as certain politicians might say, he didn’t build that. Perry Fewell does have a Super Bowl ring he earned as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants and Rich Bisaccia has one from his days as the Bucs’ special teams coordinator. But, by and large, the group lacks hardware.
And while not all of the candidates are kids, only Mike Zimmer, who is 57, and 58-year-old Jim Caldwell are as old as Mike Shanahan was when he took the Redskins job four years ago. Jay Gruden, possibly the front runner, is 46. Sean McDermott won’t turn 40 until after free agency starts. James Franklin turns 42 next month.
The idea is simple, really. You find a coach who doesn’t necessarily have a fat resume but one who is high on energy, has leadership qualities, and has a vision for where he wants to take a football team. You make him your own and go on to accomplish great things together for the next 10 or 15 years.
Of course, that is much easier said than done. NFL teams (and other sports teams and, for that matter, businesses and organizations of all types) are constantly trying to identify and hire people who have not yet hit their peak and appear to have a very high ceiling.
The Redskins have tried this approach a couple of times in the last 30+ years. Joe Gibbs, who was 40 when the Redskins hired him in 1981, was the ultimate rising star. He was the offensive coordinator for some very good (but not champion) Chargers teams. But he worked under Don “Air” Coryell, a certified offensive genius. How much of the credit for the San Diego offense did he deserve?
But after trying to force the Coryell system onto the Redskins led to an 0-5 start to his career, Gibbs struck his own path, developed The Hogs, and won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.
Norv Turner was 41 when the Redskins made him their head coach in 1994. He was thought to be the prototypical rising star after serving as the offensive coordinator on the Cowboys’ back to back Super Bowl champs. Needless to say, he did not work out as well as Gibbs.
Still, one has to wonder what might have happened if Turner had been set up as well as Gibbs in terms of player talent. He walked in the door and found Joe Theismann, John Riggins, Art Monk, Mark Moseley, Dave Butz, Monte Coleman, and a few other key pieces to the team’s first Super Bowl title. Turner came in to a team with Darrell Green and not much more.
It’s doubtful that Turner could have achieved what Gibbs did even if he had arrived to find the likes of Theismann and Monk. But we’ll never know if Joe Gibbs would have survived long enough to win three rings and become a legend had he come to Redskins Park with John Friesz, Heath Shuler, and Gus Frerotte at QB, Reggie Brooks at running back, and Desmond Howard at wide receiver.
So there is an element of good fortune in turning from a rising star into a consistent winner as a head coach. Whoever takes this job probably won’t have it as good as Gibbs did but an offensive core of Pierre Garçon, Trent Williams, Alfred Morris, and Robert Griffin III is a good place to start.
Both Gibbs and Turner came into a relative stable environment at Redskins Park. That word can’t be used to describe the state of things in Ashburn today.
So whether the Redskins find the next legend or the next Norv may not depend totally on the man they hire. But the wrong guy won’t be able to maximize whatever talent is there, so finding the right man comes first.